The dream has been realized.
Rafael Nadal will face Roger Federer in the Australian Open final after the No. 9-seeded Spaniard edged Grigor Dimitrov in five sets 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-4 on Friday night in Melbourne.
Dimitrov, playing inspired, fearless tennis, was denied a first Grand Slam final appearance by the former No. 1 who broke the Bulgarian’s serve at 4-4 in the fifth set, then after a long game with numerous match points finally held to clinch the match, falling to the court in relief.
“I think Grigor played great. I played great,” Nadal told the media afterwards. “So was a great quality of tennis tonight. So just for me, is amazing to be through to a final of Grand Slam again here in Australia at the first of the year. Means a lot to me. I feel the love of the people here…Arrive moment in the fifth set that for sure I wanted to win. I say to myself, I am giving my best, I am playing very well. If I lose, that’s it. Grigor deserves, too.”
The win was vindication for the Spaniard after weathering a 2016 filled with injury and doubt.
“Last year was tough,” he said. “When you feel that you are playing very well and you have to go from Roland Garros without going on court, I remember myself crying on the car coming back to hotel, no? That was a tough moment. But then I tried very hard for to play the Olympics. I take risks to play Olympics because it is a very special event for me. To represent my country there was so important. I take the risk. Was a great Olympic Game for me. Having gold medal in doubles. I was close to having a medal in singles. If I have to be back there, I would play again. But after that, I played the US Open with okay conditions. After that, the hand was not there any more, no? I had to stop, and was a great decision, I think.”
For Dimitrov the tough five-set loss foretells possible great things in 2017.
“It’s never easy to lose a match like that. I’m happy, though, with a lot of things,” he said. “I’m going to stay positive and keep my head up high. For sure Rafa deserves pretty much all the credit right now since he’s such a fighter, such a competitor. At the same time it was an honor for me to play a match like that against him. It also shows me that I’m in a good way, I’m on the right path…I’m proud of my team. Proud of my coach. Everyone that has taken care of me that month, it’s been super intense. We can relax for a little bit now and get back to work.”
Nadal has won six of the eight Grand Slam finals he has played against Federer. It will be the first in almost six years, the last when Nadal won the 2011 French Open.
Nadal is 23-11 head-to-head against Federer.
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